Listening & Learning

Life happens while we’re having conversations with ourselves and other people.

Listening is the context that makes life intelligible, allows anything to have meaning, and forms the basis for all communication (both written and spoken). It’s a whole lot more than just ‘hearing’ the words that are spoken. It’s about listening with an open mind, listening without already having an answer, listening to the person and noticing what they are not saying. Unfortunately, we are always bringing a prior interpretation or understanding of our world to every situation we encounter or can imagine encountering. So listening with an open mind requires effort and focus and a willingness to allow people and situations to just ‘be’ as they are.

Listening in this way is the most basic aspect of being a human being I know.

I suppose that not learning from others may have a lot to do with not truly ‘listening’ to what others say. In our modern Western culture, most of us don’t listen to or act on the wisdom and experience of our parents and grandparents. So what is our listening when we disregard another person’s contributions? If we’re committed to being right about all that we’ve learned so far, then it’s our ego that’s listening. But if we’re more committed to learning, it’s our ‘higher Self’ that’s present in our listening: it’s then that we create the possibility of actually ‘getting’ what another person has to offer.

When I find myself saying “Yes, but…” to the gems of wisdom all around me, I’m really resisting what’s being offered. I’m arguing with the other person’s ‘truth’ and attempting to justify my own point of view. I’m essentially listening to myself, my own history, my beliefs—scanning for evidence and examples to prove I’m right and that any other view is essentially wrong (or at least not relevant to me). As I grow older, I have fewer problems accepting other people’s wisdom
as truth, and I find myself even acting on much of it. Yet I occasionally still
resist accepting their contributions—but it’s not what’s being
offered that I’m refusing to accept. I’m actually resisting letting go
of my ego: my ‘self’ feels that accepting another point of view is a
little like dying. If I’m ever to learn anything, I can only do so by listening with an open mind and a commitment to learn—and when I do so, the other person’s ‘truth’, ideas and beliefs will no longer appear as a threat to my ego.

I see aging as a possible way of learning to die, a way to learn how to live life based on a commitment to being myself rather than living life to protect my ego. And I consciously choose to learn from others now…

What if young people could learn the distinction between ‘listening’ and ‘hearing’ earlier and therefore choose a life based on possibility instead of one based on resistance?

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